The coastal sage plant community has been substantially reduced in San Diego County, being replaced by housing developments, shopping centers, business centers, and golf courses. However, there are remnants in some of our coastal canyons and in special reserves. One place you can still spy them out is the Encinitas Ranch, along a public trail on a coastal ridge. The trail has stunning views of sandstone cliffs and the ocean beyond, as it goes past a golf course and to the Magdalena Ecke Open Space Preserve.
Parts of this trail are on sidewalks along high traffic volume city streets. From Town Center Place, begin walking west up the street to Calle Barcelona. Turn left at Calle Barcelona and head to the signal light on Leucadia Boulevard, crossing to the south side of this busy road, which then becomes Garden View Road to the south of Leucadia Boulevard. A paved trail begins at the southwest corner intersection of Garden View Road and Leucadia Boulevard. The elevation of this paved trail gradually increases as the ridge is climbed.
After walking roughly 0.5 mile, there will be a bridge crossing Leucadia Boulevard. The bridge is primarily for golf carts, but pedestrians can legally walk across the bridge, taking care not to obstruct traffic. Unless you are a member of the Encinitas Ranch Golf Club, do not turn left or enter the course. Instead, immediately turn right once across the bridge, and go up the trail to the top of the ridge. Turn left upon reaching the ridge crest. The trail continues through coastal sage scrub with the golf course and scattered eucalyptus trees on the left and rust-colored sandstone cliffs on the right. There are outstanding views to the east, encompassing the extensive housing developments of Encinitas and Carlsbad, as well as west to the ocean. A little over 0.25 mile ahead, the trail crosses the golf course (stay on the trail) and reaches Quail Gardens Drive.
The trail continues on the other side of Quail Gardens Drive, dropping into the Magdalena Ecke Open Space Preserve and passing down a canyon through coastal sage scrub and riparian habitats. Track your direction and your steps as the trails are not well marked. However, they do present an opportunity for a more extensive exploration of coastal sage scrub habitat, and a chance to see how it has changed due to an infestation of invasive species, particularly eucalyptus. Return to Quail Gardens Drive after exploring this area.
To complete the hike, retrace your steps to the intersection of Garden View Road and Leucadia Boulevard and return to your vehicle the way you came.
Enjoy the views and one of our remaining coastal sage scrub habitats. Coastal sage scrub is not chaparral. Summer dormant shrubs, especially California sagebrush and black sage, dominate coastal sage scrub habitat. These shrubs are rarely more than one-and-a-half feet tall, with relatively soft, easily bent branches. In contrast, chaparral shrubs are evergreen and have stiff, often thorny branches, which grow together to form an impermeable thicket. Coastal sage scrub is sometimes called “soft” chaparral. You will see many chaparral species growing on the north-facing slope, on your left, as you walk up the trail paralleling Leucadia Boulevard. This demonstrates the fact that vegetation may grow in a mosaic pattern in which an intermixture of chaparral and coastal sage species may often occur, depending on local environmental conditions.
Much of the vegetation on either side of the trail is restored habitat in which coastal sage species are thriving with the irrigation provided. There are also a few large scrub oaks and numerous Torrey pines, which may predate the restoration.
From I-5 go east on Leucadia Boulevard for 1.6 miles. Turn left on Town Center Place. Find a place to park near REI in the large lot serving the numerous surrounding businesses and restaurants. Trailhead GPS: N33.06845, W117.26775
Looking for more great hikes? Check out our Canyoneers page or purchase the book,
Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors.
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